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    Buying Drugs Online.

    Buying drugs from Canadian online pharmacies can equal big savings, but first know your sources.

    Buyer Beware

    But while buying cheaper drugs from reputable online pharmacists at home or abroad can save you plenty, obtaining drugs blindly from a site you've never heard of could also buy you major trouble. The FDA, Federal Trade Commission, and consumer watchdog groups warn that when you order from web sites you're not sure about, you could be getting counterfeit drugs that contain no active ingredients or even harmful substances.

    Most consumers are smart enough to know that the "Rolex" watch offered by a street-corner peddler is sure to be a cheap knockoff. If you want the real thing, you go to a reputable jeweler down the street. But when the street is just one little block on the information superhighway, how can you tell whether you're dealing with a respectable storefront operation or a sidewalk hustler?

    You only need to glance at the spam clogging your inbox to see that some charlatan somewhere -- whether it's in the Bahamas, Beijing, Africa, or Alabama -- is willing to take your money in exchange for drugs that promise to make your sex life better, grow hair on a billiard ball, double your lifespan, or let you eat deep-fried Twinkies while you watch the pounds melt away!

    Some sites offer the chance to "buy drugs (FDA-approved prescription drugs) and other medications with NO prescription." Others promise that only a brief online or telephone consultation is needed. When Consumer Reports magazine senior editor Tod Marks went online to see what he could get without a valid prescription, he found this: "Without visiting or speaking to a doctor, Marks was able to buy seven different prescription drugs -- to help him lose weight, quit smoking, combat osteoporosis, and fight aging, depression, seasonal allergies, and bacterial infection. Except for the antihistamine, which might have helped his hay fever, Marks, a healthy 44-year-old nonsmoker, had no business taking those medications," the magazine reports.

    An Ounce of Prevention

    How can you tell whether a cyberpharmacy is legit? A bill currently before the U.S. Senate, called the Dorgan-Snowe Drug Importation Bill, would establish a system for ensuring that imported drugs are approved by the FDA and are made in FDA-inspected facilities. In addition, drugs could only be imported from countries with a drug regulation system comparable to that of the U.S. The bipartisan bill also calls on the FDA to establish a list of approved Canadian pharmacies on its web site and furnish a toll-free phone number for Americans to verify the legitimacy of a Canadian pharmacy. The FDA would also be required to inspect both Canadian pharmacies and U.S. importers of prescription drugs to ensure that they comply with the law.

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